Henry VIII: Nice guy or psychopath?


Between the two of them, his daughters, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I, pretty much wiped out anyone closely related to them. Elizabeth is considered one of the best British monarchs, but the result was the end of the House of Tudor and the importation of the Stuarts from Scotland. And we all know that that worked out so well.

Even without DNA testing, it was pretty common. Nobles without heirs quite commonly adopted nephews or “somehow” produced a child. So did common folk. They did value fidelity, but also children. Even if Henry couldn’t father a healthy child, he had other ways to deal with the problem.

This was a well-known trait of Henry’s - that he could be calmed down and appeased and would forgive people if they could get to him to make a personal appeal. Katherine Parr is not the only example of this - a similar situation happened with Thomas Cranmer. The various political factions in his court were well aware of this and used it to manipulate the situation and him. The executions of both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard were, in part, also due to ‘court politics’ as well as to Henry’s personal issues with them. There was a point where the Howard family and the Seymour family were involved in some nasty power plays - and it was known that a good way to get control over and favor from Henry was to get him to turn his attention to (or from!) a lady of the ‘correct’ political/religious persuasion.

Yes and no. If Catherine had not continued to fight the divorce and refer to herself as “Queen of England” after it she probably would have been treated in the same way as Anne of Cleves. Henry offered her better treatment if she acknowledged Anne Boleyn as Queen, but she refused repeatedly. Her actions risked making any further sons he produced illegitimate, making him less than well disposed towards her.

(However wearing yellow and ordering national celebrations when she died was probably taking it a little too far.)

Mary was another threat to his future sons, a reminder of the marriage, and married to the wrong person she could end up as a puppet of a foreign power and a threat to any sons who inherited the throne. She was only reconciled with her father after he had a surviving if weak son who had been acknowledged the heir. (Mary treated her sister Elizabeth just as badly when she came to the throne.)

Henry wasn’t a psychopath, just a person with an overriding goal in mind (holding his country together long term) who was ruthless in pursuing that. Psychopaths are almost incapable of long-term planning or delayed gratification. Henry managed both quite well. Sociopath? A personal appeal to a sociopath is unlikely to get you anywhere, but its recorded as working with Henry. I don’t think either really fit, especially given the totally different values of society at the time.

I think it’s different when you’re talking about the heir to the throne–someone who has to hold various scheming, power-hungry factions in check in order to keep the nation together with the claim of blood and divine right combined with personality. A nobleman adopting a nephew or even faking an heir is one thing, but the king doing it is quite another. Once again–this was an age when queens gave birth in public and their adultery was burning-at-the-stake treason, exactly to prevent any such shenanigans.

Henry didn’t handle his situation at all well. But the solutions proposed here are on the unrealistic side.

To answer the OP directly, I’d say “Neither.” astorian, dangermom and tirial each make some excellent points. Henry VIII was ruthless and cunning when it came to his kingdom, and shamelessly self-indulgent when it came to sex, food and drink. He paid the price for these character traits, in more ways than one.

Couldn’t help but think of Homer Simpson as Henry VIII, in bed with his wife du jour, moaning “Must… sire… a dude!”

And at no extra charge, here’s a little rhyme my grandma taught me to remember the fates of Henry VIII’s wives, in order:

Divorced, beheaded, died;
Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Cite that it happened with a king? And yes, nephews and nieces, or cousins, etc* have inherited the throne-if said noble or monarch had no direct heirs. That being said, that has nothing to do with faking a birth.
Henry’s nephew, James V of Scotland, had a few bastard sons, but his only heir was a daughter, Mary Queen of Scots.
Henry was pretty shrewd, and I doubt he’d try it. Plus, Catherine would NEVER have agreed to it.

Henry was ruthless-not a psycho. He was pretty much like most monarchs of that age. Ivan the Terrible, it’s believed, suffered from mercury poisoning, or perhaps he WAS a sociopath. I seem to recall stories of him torturing animals by throwing them off high balconies as a child.

*That’s how James I and VI inherited the English throne. Same with Queen Victoria-her uncle William IV was her predecesor. (I know I butchered THAT spelling)

This is a really good point, and why the whole swap-with-another’s-son might not have worked.

If you’re claiming a nobleman’s son as yours, you’re gonna have to pay him off–and pacify his whole faction at court, which is going to lead to even more divisions and rivalries. And if your son gets to the throne, and it gets out that he’s just a Seymour (or a Parr, or a Howard, or whatever), no legitimate royal blood in him–then anybody’s fair game for the throne.

And if you’re taking a commoner’s child, you’re going to have to pay off those people, and you still run the risk of people finding out the king’s baseborn–and beginning the whole round of civil wars again.

On the whole, it’s safer to have a legitimate heir with the queen. Henry might, on an off chance, have made Fitzroy his heir–but then you’ve got the lineage of Bessie Blount versus that of Catherine of Aragon, and people might not have stood for someone who wasn’t completely royalty on both sides.

I’ll go with not a psychopath then, but perhaps so warped by his situation … power enough to turn most folks into megalomaniacs and all sorts of grounds for paranoia … that as far as making the distinction, it’s almost a moot point. People were probably well advised to treat him like a psychopath for the sake of their own skins.

The personal appeal aspect is what persuades most. I can’t see a psychopath being turned by a personal appeal. They lack the capacity for empathy, hence wouldn’t be affected.

That said, the blubbering creature envisioned in the PBS Henry VIII was completely out of the ballpark.

I still have no respect for the guy.

The events of 400 years previous were still a vivid memory? :dubious:

Probably not :smiley: However the War of the Roses (effectively 30 years of civil war for the crown) only ended when Henry’s father took the throne in 1485. Henry came to the throne in 1509, so certainly during the early stages of his reign the consequences of not having a strong king and an heir would have been within living memory.

Pfft, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner weren’t even alive back then.

Or is this that “revisionist history” I keep hearing so much about?

And how does Danny DeVito figure into all of this? They didn’t even mention him during my tour of Hampton Court.

“I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper.”

Just to let you know, we Culpepers still have it, if any ladies out there are looking. :wink:

But if I sleep with you, do I get my head chopped off?

checks for any Howard ancestry in genes

I think a point that is being missed here is that Henry, like his daughter Elizabeth after him, had an enormous capacity for rationalization and self-delusion. There were often situations for which there was no good solution; Henry would choose what way he decided to go, then talk himself into believing that he was not only justified, but forced into the decision by circumstances. Elizabeth frequently did the same thing. The problem for both of them was that they had consciences, and were not ruthless by nature (although I’m sure it got easier over time). They would end up choosing the easiest or least painful (to themselves) resolution, but feel bad about it and therefore blame almost anyone within reach.

Btw, although Anne Boleyn was almost certainly not a virgin when she first had an affair with Henry, she also almost certainly did not have an affair at the end. She was a very sharp cookie, not likely to be carried away by passion, and she knew very well that she was hanging by a thread at that point. Howard, on the other hand, was a silly little girl who never wanted to marry Henry in the first place, and quite possibly was stupid enough to think she could get away with cheating on him.

Only if you have a hubby named Henry. If not, then we’re good to go.

Oh pishaw. As has been noted only the two were killed. And not out of any kind of weird bloodlust. They (as far as we know anyway) were cheating on him and death was what you got for cheating on a king. He probably could have put a stop to it but it would have made him look weak. Kings don’t like that.

I’m more concerned about what he did to the Catholics.

Yeah, I think having two of your wives beheaded constitutes a weird bloodlust.

Anne was almost definitely NOT cheating on him. That charge was trumped up because he was through with her. Partially because she didn’t give him the son he was sure he’d get from her, but IMO, partially because marriage to her was not what he thought it would be, after all he’d been through to make it happen. In that way, he fulfilled many people’s fantasies about their exes. However, actually doing it does make you a bit of a psycho.

Catherine Howard was someone he shouldn’t have married in the first place. Her lack of brains and savvy alone would have been enough, but she also had a licentious past that was bound to come out. A totally inappropriate choice, but he was the king, so he got what he wanted anyway, and she had little choice in the matter. Don’t forget he was about 300 lbs. by then and had an infection in his leg that probably stank–eww. She was too foolish to realize that she couldn’t get away with an affair. The error was hers, but also his in marrying her in the first place. The poor guy she was involved with before she ever met Henry was drawn and quartered, too.

Yes, that was bad, but many rulers persecute subjects for their religions. Not many execute two wives. That shows a willingness to harm those you’re supposed to love. Pretty psychopathic to me.

That’s just his two wives. How about his dad’s ministers, or his closest advisors?